Heather Langenkamp as Nancy Thompson in Wes Craven’s ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ – Courtesy of New Line Cinema
The performances in A Nightmare on Elm Street are like a hot bag of skittles in the dash of your car in the dead of summer — these suckers are good regardless of the condition and situation. While there aren’t many scenes where the actors get to chew on dialog, with Craven’s story and its mythology moving at breakneck speeds, there’s still a good amount for remarkable acting in the film.
Acting as the film’s heroine and story anchor, Heather Langenkamp fills the shoes of girl next door Nancy Thompson. While Langenkamp isn’t the best actress to grace the silver screen, she’s only been in a handful of films, her innocent nature is perfect for Craven’s tale.
Interestingly enough, her work in Craven’s massively underrated 1994 sequel A New Nightmare is much sharper. However, I’m not saying she’s a bad actress at all. In fact, she does great work here. Just look at her reaction when Rod explains the secret dream visitor he’s been seeing lately. Nancy’s internal understanding is heard loud and clear.
Then there’s John Saxon. A true veteran of the screen, the actor brings not only discipline to his role, but a sense of poise. Not in the film for long, you can just tell the burning of ol’ Fred and his wife’s ever increasing drinking have weathered the man. He deflects with work and an unflinching need to protect his daughter, which isn’t a bad thing in the least. Saxon kills it.
Lastly, we have the burned one himself. Portraying the dream-hoping Freddy Kruger, Robert Englund turns in some of the best work in the history of horror. With little screen time, the actor brings so much to the role that, without him, the film wouldn’t work half as much.
When it comes time for Nancy to throw down with the Springwood Slasher, Englund is ungodly terrifying. In retrospect, which I’ll be discussing in the coming weeks, it’s sad that the character became what is essentially a punch-line comedian in subsequent installments. In the original, Freddy Kruger is one of the scariest, most vile characters to ever appear on film.
Sorry Deppster, I only discuss the three best in any film. While you were good, you weren’t that good. Maybe next time Jack Sparrow. Now walk the plank you thespian freak.
Wes Craven’s script for A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of the best horror packages coming out of that ’80s horror mail room.
Mirroring Don Coscarelli‘s 1979 horror staple Phantasm script in terms originality, Craven’s script is downright magical. You’ve never seen anything like it. While the concept for Craven’s classic is interesting enough (a demented killer with the ability to invade dreams), the strength of this cinematic nightmare novel is so much more. The script is filled with untimely story elements, which, added with the powerful score, create an amazing elixir for your senses.
More from A Nightmare on Elm Street
- 31 Days of Horror: ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors’ rules!
- Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares: A must-see for Freddy fans
- Queer Themes in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
- Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare — A nuanced take on abuse?!
- Robert Englund: Stay awake with his special Nightmare Blend coffee
Those untimely story elements include, but aren’t limited to, the sins of the parents being passed to their children, being alone in your view of the world, and facing one’s inner demons.
In fact, the whole film is a subtext for kicking fear in the rear and not letting the internal terror of life have its day. I love these elements, and though subtle in presentation, really boost this slasher sensation into immortal territory.
Prior to revealing The Last House on the Left to the world, Craven taught English at Westminster. He was a voracious reader as a youth, and those long hours devouring literature really paid off for us movie-loving maniacs. The reason behind the zero cinema policy was due to his mother being a strict religious devotee who forbade him from seeing any moving pictures. Thanks, Mama Craven, we appreciate it.
The script’s third act is also the strongest in the film. Craven really knows how to up the bet and go all in with his twisted tales. Much like he did with the brilliant Scream, though writing credits go to Kevin Williamson, he makes the final showdown between Nancy and her sleep stalker like a classic boxing match in Muhammad Ali’s right-hand résumé. Not only is roughly thirty to forty minutes dedicated to setting up the showdown, with every story element doing its part like cogs in a clock, the villain is withheld for a large portion of the second act and Mr.Kruger’s reveal is much more epic for it — Craven was born to tell stories.
Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street is a staple of the horror genre for a reason. The film’s well directed, impeccably written, and features a breath taking performance by genre actor Robert Englund. The film, which is thematically a dissertation on the power of fear, is one of the best films ever made. Don’t watch it alone though: one, two Freddy’s coming for you.
THE GRADE: A+
Tune in next Friday as I tackle Jack Shoulder’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge